Song of the Day #1,779: ‘Army (Live)’ – Ben Folds Five

folds_retrospectiveWhen a favorite artist has a new album on the way, I go out of my way to not hear anything from it until its release.

Occasionally I’ll get sucked in, because it’s really hard to resist those “Check out the new song from the upcoming Vampire Weekend!” posts that pop up in my Facebook feed. But for the most part I want to go into an anticipated new album with virgin ears.

The practice stems back to Ben Folds Five’s third album, 1999’s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. That album came out right around the Napster era, when sharing music files was suddenly easy, and five tracks from the record were circulating among fans weeks before the official release.

Those tracks were ‘Narcolepsy,’ ‘Don’t Change Your Plans,’ ‘Mess,’ ‘Magic’ and today’s SOTD, ‘Army’ — basically the entire first half of the album. And they were awesome… pushing new musical boundaries while preserving the wit and musical dexterity that made the band my favorite.

I couldn’t wait to hear what else the album had in store.

I remember reading an online comment from a fan who had somehow heard the whole album. He wrote something along the lines of “The leaked tracks are the best songs on the album by far… they’re pretty much all you need to hear.”

God damn it if he didn’t turn out to be right. The rest of the album paled in comparison to those first five songs (closing track ‘Lullaby’ was the exception). And one of my most anticipated albums turned into a bit of a letdown.

That’s what I decided never to preview an album again, certainly not that extensively. Had I experienced Reinhold Messner cold, how different would my reaction have been? Maybe I would have felt that it started strong before sliding a bit in its back half, but I bet my overall impression would have been far more positive.

Well I thought about the army,
Dad said, son you’re fuckin high.
And I thought, yeah there’s a first for everything,
So I took my old man’s advice.
Three sad semesters,
It was only fifteen grand.
Spent in bed I thought about the army,
I dropped out and joined a band instead.

Grew a mustache and a mullet,
Got a job at chic-fil-a.
Citing artistic differences the band broke up in May,
And in June reformed without me, and they got a different name.
I nuked another grandma’s apple pie
And hung my head in shame.

Been thinking a lot today.
Been thinking a lot today.

Oh, I think I’ll write a screenplay.
Oh, I think I’ll take it to LA.
Oh, I think I’ll get it done yesterday (aw shit).

In this time of introspection.
On the eve of my election,
I say to my reflection
God, please spare me more rejection.
Cause my peers they criticize me,
And my ex-wives all despise me.
Try to put it all behind me,
But my redneck past is nipping at my heels

I’ve been thinking a lot today.
I’ve been thinking a lot today.
I’ve been thinking a lot today.
I thought about the army

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,779: ‘Army (Live)’ – Ben Folds Five

  1. Dana says:

    Well , I heard it sans leaked material and my impression was more favorable than yours, so your theory may be right. No question that the first half is stronger than the second, but, as you noted “lullaby” is strong and I like the vibe of “Jane” and am okay with “your redneck past.”

    Meanwhile you say nothing about the live album from which today’s track came. For the most part, while it is a decent record as live albums go, I mostly prefer the studio tracks over their live counterparts.

  2. Clay says:

    I prefer the live version of ‘Jane,’ which is on a traditional piano rather than the reverb-y synths of the album version.

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